§ '.—In the exercise of their powers under section 1, any relevant corporation or the Secretary of State shall require from any person or body being considered as a transferee details of their safety record and policies.'.—[Mr. Snape]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Mr. Snape
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
The clause deals with the safety record of transferees in the coal and rail industries. The safety record in British mines has been hard earned over many years, and our safety record in deep mining is widely regarded as the best in the world. That means that entrants to coal mining in the United Kingdom who have any world-wide experience will inevitably have a worse record than that of British Coal or, if they are completely new to the industry, they will have no record at all. My hon. Friends with greater expertise in the industry will speak about the safety regime following privatisation. We look forward, perhaps with more optimism than we should, to detailed responses from the Minister for Industry.
I must say to the Minister, en passant—to use the words of my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr. Skinner), although that does not strike me as the sort of lingo one normally hears in the pubs and clubs of Bolsover—that we should have more details from Ministers about what they propose. There is little point in their saying that we should wait for the White Paper or the Bill. If the House is to legislate properly, Ministers must at least give us the framework of the legislative proposals that they have in mind for both of industries. Safety in both the coal mining and the railway industries ought to be at the top of their list, as it is at the top of ours. It is not good enough for the Minister to tell us that in due course the Government will produce a White Paper and after that they will introduce a Bill. They should do better than give the impression that privatisation of these great industries amounts to no more than a line in an election manifesto or an ideological spasm by Tory Back Benchers.
Safety was discussed fairly briefly on Second Reading but in some detail in Committee. Without repeating anything said in the debates on earlier stages of the Bill, I make no apology for returning to this vital matter. Despite all our discussions and despite long debates in Committee, the word "safety" does not appear anywhere in the Bill. I hope that both the Ministers will ensure that that obvious omission is remedied when flesh is put on the bones of privatisation for both the coal mining and the railway industries.
Those of us who have worked in the railway industry are aware that safety was always a top priority. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Riddick), the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Minister for Energy, who has shown some interest in my notes, is really interested in this matter, I will send him a copy of them. That might enable him to make more accurate contributions than those that he has so far made in the debates on the Bill. I shall be delighted to give way if he wishes to intervene. I understand that it is not usual for Parliamentary Private Secretaries to do that, but nor is it usual for my hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover to speak French. As we are departing from the norm, we may 633 as well continue to do so and flout tradition. If the PPS lacks my hon. Friend's confidence—I nearly said sang froid, but thought better of it—we will pass over his lack of contribution.
The British Railways Board chairman said recently:Absolute safety is our aim. The Board will not treat any level of accident involving risk of injury as acceptable.I think that the board has demonstrated its concern about safety, particularly after the tragedy at Clapham, by the expenditure, real and proposed, of £200 million a year.
My first question to the Minister for Public Transport, who I presume will be replying to the debate, is this: who will take over responsibility for safety matters after privatisation? I hope that he will forgive me if I cynically answer my own question by saying that I expect that we shall. There will be no great rush from people outside either of the industries prepared to invest shareholders' cash in maintaining or improving safety records in either industry. Responsibility for the improvement of safety records will inevitably fall on the public sector in the case of the mines and, I suspect, on the passengers in the case of the railways. I suspect that we shall hear from the Minister today how much money the Government are putting into the railway industry. What they do is allow British Rail to borrow even more money, which is then repaid through the highest railway fares in western Europe.
I hope that I am wrong, but I suspect that the Minister will tell us that the industry will bear some responsibility for safety after privatisation but on the whole it will lie with the Department of Transport. That is not good enough, because when anything goes wrong, the Department of Transport will claim that it was merely overseeing safety matters and was not responsible for safety. I suspect that there will be a similar story from the Department of Trade and Industry in the event of a fatal or serious accident in a mine. Both industries need a single authority to oversee safety if we are to maintain the enviable safety records that they have demonstrated over many years.
Overseeing safety in the railways industry is vital because of the fragmentation of the industry that is likely to take place if the proposals set out in the White Paper are approved by the House. A number of people will be involved and their operating measures will impinge directly on safety. For example, there will be the franchise passenger train operators that I understand the Government wish to see. I say "I understand" because we do not know for sure. Although Ministers have expressed the desire to see other passenger train operators than British Rail, they have not given us any sign of how that will come about. However, those franchise passenger train operators will need to be adequately supervised if a proper safety regime is to be maintained.
There will be other passenger train operators because I understand that the Government also envisage individual train operations, both passenger and freight, being undertaken by the private sector. The difficulty of seeing that just those two groups conform adequately to proper safety regimes can readily be appreciated by those of us who take an interest in these matters.
634 Then there is the track authority itself. It would be helpful if the Minister could tell us what form he envisages this taking, how it will be composed, whether its members will be appointed by the Secretary of State—another dash of centralisation—and whether they will be selected on the basis of their membership of the Conservative party, as appears to have happened with health authority boards, or on the basis of other, more relevant reasons.
There will be private station owners. Certain Ministers and many Back Benchers, perhaps demonstrating more enthusiasm than brains, have talked about the need to sell railway stations. Any safety regime will need to embrace the activities of such private station owners. I understand that the routine tasks which have traditionally been carried out in the railway industry, such as track maintenance, will be contracted out. How is it envisaged that track maintenance contracts will be properly policed to ensure that track is adequately and safely maintained after privatisation?
I am sure that, under the Government's proposals, train maintenance will also be contracted out. I am referring not just to the cleaning and upkeep of trains—something that the Government have for a long time wished to see their private sector friends involved in—but also to actual maintenance. Presumably that too will be put out to tender, and presumably the private sector will be involved.
Then there are the other people whose duties and activities will impinge on safety—the regulator, whoever he or she is, and, of course the health and safety executive under the railways inspectorate. The nine bodies to which I have referred—there are probably others—will all have responsibilities which impinge directly on safety. We need to hear, if only in outline, how Ministers envisage the duties of those groups being discharged, bearing in mind their safety records and policies—matters to which the new clause refers.
Safety in the mining and railway industries does not come cheap. Birmingham New Street station, which is not far from my constituency, is currently undergoing extensive safety work at the behest of the fire authority. I understand that about £11 million is being spent on that station because someone in the fire authority decided that, as the bulk of the station is below street level, it is an underground station and that, following the King's Cross disaster, safety measures there are considered to be insufficient. I make no great complaint about that, but in my view the safety regime that outside bodies sometimes force on the railway industry is far more stringent than that imposed on other forms of transport.
Less than a mile from Birmingham New Street station is the Digbeth coach station, which I should probably be over-praising if I were to refer to it as a 19th-century slum. To my knowledge, no one has ever burned to death at Birmingham New Street in that terrible way people died at King's Cross, yet I understand that this safety regime is being forced on British Rail by the fire authority at a cost of about £11 million.
It is difficult to imagine any private sector operator accepting such a responsibility. It is difficult to imagine any private sector operator signing a contract for the purchase of Birmingham New Street or any similar InterCity station, or to operate trains through such a station, without securing from the Government of the day a guarantee that such expenditures would not be thrust upon it.
635 To protect the average motorist from the consequences of his or her own folly, British Rail is incurring similar expenditure on level crossings around the country. In this context, I should say that members of the public who travel by train do not have the benefit of free railway warrants such as are issued to Members of Parliament. Of the amounts spent on level crossings, 50 per cent. must be met from British Rail's own resources. Is it envisaged that the private operators will pick up such bills?
§ Mr. Snape
I am not joking. I am not given to humour in respect of such matters. But these are relevant questions. Consider the east coast main line. One can envisage considerable costs falling on the public sector—costs that could not be defrayed from the receipts derived from high-speed trains hurtling at 125 miles per hour over level crossings. This expenditure will have to be defrayed out of the public purse, yet in the context of these proposals the Government have said nothing about it.
§ Mr. Milligan
The hon. Gentleman implies that private rail operators will find it very difficult to afford the necessary safety. Has he studied the situation in Japan, where there is a large public network and an even larger private network? Has he noticed that the fatality records of the two networks there are almost identical—within two decimal points?
§ Mr. Snape
I have studied the situation in Japan, as the hon. Gentleman obviously has not. The myth of the privatisation of Japanese railways is regularly propagated by Ministers and is obviously believed by the more gullible Conservative Back Benchers. Anyone looking at the supposed privatisation of certain railway undertakings previously operated by Japan National Railways will see that it is in no way on the same lines as that envisaged—I have to use the word "envisaged" as we have no real details—by Ministers and certainly by some of the more idealistic Conservative Members.
The rump of the publicly owned British Rail, or taxpayers at large, will be expected to meet the cost of level crossings between London and Edinburgh. I forget how many there are, but it is certainly more than 100. And the British Rail rump to which I have just referred will be bereft of the profits of the east coast main line because of the intervention of organisations like Stagecoach and Virgin Rail. I expect that, well before they sign any contracts, such undertakings will ensure that they are not to be held responsible, financially or in any other way, for those crossings.
§ Mr. Milligan
The hon. Gentleman has not answered my question. I am not talking about the proposed privatisation of the ex-JNR lines; I am talking about lines that have been in private ownership for many years, by which two thirds of Japanese passengers travel.
§ Mr. Snape
I agree that there have been private railways in Japan for many years. Presumably those private railways themselves installed the infrastructure many years ago, and presumably they are responsible for costs of the type about which I am talking. [Interruption.] Once again the hon. Member for Colne Valley, the Minister's Private Parliamentary Secretary, with fingers in various orifices, makes some odd noises. I should think that the system in Japan works as I have indicated. If the hon. Gentleman 636 has some evidence to the contrary, or some personal experience of how the system there works, let him break his vow of silence.
§ Mr. Snape
It may have been a good one, but it was not very relevant.
The point that I am making to the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan), who intervened quite properly, is that in the case of British Rail that is not the point from which we are starting. What we are talking about is the introduction of private services on an existing publicly owned railway. I suspect that the rump of the publicly owned railway will remain responsible for the costs that I have outlined, and that the new jazzily painted privately owned railway companies will avoid any such costs.
My view—I hope that I can take the hon. Gentleman will me—is that, at the very least, the bodies responsible for operating the new privately owned railways should share those costs. After all, their trains will go over the same 100-odd level crossings as will those left in the public sector. What worries me—I am sorry if I have said this too often, but I see a glimmer of understanding in the hon.
§ Mr. Snape
Ever the optimist—perhaps I kid myself.
What worries me is that these costs, which will increase with increasing train speeds, will continue to fall on the public sector as, of course, will all signalling costs arising from modernisation schemes and from the running of high speed trains.
Of course, it is not just a matter of the east coast main line—other areas should be close to the hearts of Conservative Members. In Committee, we discussed who would pay the cost of the proposed resignalling of the London-Tilbury-Southend line, which attracts an enormous number of complaints—usually, but not exclusively, since the general election, from Conservative Members. The Minister agreed, although none to graciously at the time, that the taxpayer would pay the resignalling costs. Presumably, a private operator will reap the benefits of that public expenditure when it operates certain services at certain times of the day on that line.
Those matters properly concerned us in Committee and they properly concern us today. As yet, we have had no satisfactory responses from Ministers, either in Committee or since. We look forward—this could be the optimist in me again—to hearing something about that from the Minister later.
§ Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)
It is not only Labour Members who are sceptical about privatisation. In the negotiations on the rolling stock for the Leeds-Bradford electrification, the Industrial Bank of Scotland—part of the private sector and believing in the market place—decided that the marketplace was not a good enough guarantee for the leasehold payments from the private sector. It asked the Government to guarantee the payments. That is hardly evidence from the private sector of confidence in privatisation.
§ Mr. Snape
I congratulate my hon. Friend on his ingenuity in putting that point on the record. The private 637 sector remains firmly unconvinced about any guarantees for the Leeds-Bradford line, despite a speech from the Minister suggesting that, whatever happened to the passenger transport executive and its responsibilities, something would be done to accommmodate the costs of leasing electric trains. Obviously, the private sector does not accept the Minister's assurances. Perhaps he will strengthen them when he replies to the debate.
I am sure that the Minister agrees that whoever operates the trains between Leeds and Bradford—I suspect that in the end it will be the taxpayer, the poll tax payer or the council tax payer—and whatever that company's safety record, the electrification of the line is well worth while and meets even the onerous costings laid down by the Treasury. It should go ahead.
The safety record of transferees is one with which the Opposition are quite properly concerned. Nothing that we have yet heard has assuaged that concern. I hope that for once the Minister will tell us, at least in outline, what he has in mind so that we can ensure that safety, which has always been of top priority in both industries, is maintained.
§ Mr. Redmond
I shall make only a few brief but important points about safety, both in the mines and on British Rail. I used to serve on the Doncaster area safety committee, a sub-committee of the area consultative committee until it was decided that it should be a committee in its own right. For three years on the trot, Doncaster held the national record for making the most safety improvements. I am pleased that I was able to play a small part in bringing that about.
Safety is an important factor in the mines. Miners cannot afford to relax for a minute or they are liable to lose life or limb. They must be on the ball. It is also important that the mines regulations are adhered to strictly. From time to time, the NUM has refused to defend people who have broken the regulations. It is 100 per cent. in support of any safety recommendations and regulations that protect the miners.
It is to be regretted that since the miners' strike British Coal has adopted a severe attitude and will not allow the NUM to play a full role in safety matters in a number of pits. The old 1–2–3 inspection teams used to operate effectively in the pits. Members of the NUM would inspect a particular district to ensure that it was complying with the rules and regulations. The NUM wants to continue to do that, but British Coal is reluctant to agree.
If inspectors are allowed to do their job, they may find all sorts of faults within the present system. That would interfere with production, and British Coal does not want that. Those inspectors fulfil an important role and they should be allowed to continue without interference from the management. I hope that the Minister will take note of that point.
If we want to continue the excellent safety record that the NUM and British Coal have built up over the years, we must carefully consider any interference with the 1908 Act. That Act was put on the statute book for an important reason—to stop the horrific accidents in the mines. Not just one or two people were killed; it was often several dozen people. It is important that we do not return to those days. Unless the Bill is watertight, when the private 638 sector takes over the mines it will disregard safety because it interferes with production. Whether a single pit or a group of pits, it is an important point.
The Minister has previously referred to registered disabled people within the industry. No doubt at some time in the future he will reply to my letter to him on that matter. British Coal is breaking the law, yet the Government sit back and do nothing about it. Disabled people have a right to a job in the industry and British Coal always used to have tremendous good will towards those who were injured in accidents. It found them jobs both underground and on the surface. That is no longer the case and British Coal gets rid of those people. In fact, if someone is above 50 he is pushed down the road with a redundancy payment.
I wish briefly to mention two points about British Rail. There have been a number of accidents where passengers have fallen out of train doors. There have been fatalities and the incidents have been investigated. However, British Rail is sitting back and doing nothing, even though the evidence points in a certain direction. I believe that British Rail sought to suppress the evidence and to prevent its being made public. If British Rail is willing to do that as a nationalised industry, one shudders to think what a private-sector railway will get up to.
Also important is the multi-track signalling equipment that is dotted throughout the country. About eight systems are in operation. One is Scotland fails at times to trigger the signal that there is a train on the track. The signalman looks at his equipment and sees a clear line, when in fact a goods train could have come to a halt on it. In those circumstances, a fast passenger train could be let through. A number of accidents have occurred in that way.
Before any privatisation, a one-track system should be operating throughout the country. Having been delayed on one occasion at Peterborough and diverted around the system, we were informed on arriving in a particular station, "So far and no farther, because there is no driver to take you to King's Cross." A driver is only used to his own section and only recognises his own signalling equipment. A driver should be able to take a train from one end of the country to the other, guided by the same signalling equipment. It is important for safety's sake for the Minister to take the steps necessary to bring that about before any privatisation.
§ Mr. Adley
The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) was rather harsh on my hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan). I am sure that he did not realise that my hon. Friend is very well versed in the subject. He was pointing out that in Japan, where private-sector railways have operated for a long time, the Government insist that private railway safety standards are exactly as high—no better and no worse—as those that pertain to Japanese National Railways. That has long been the case and it is why, unsurprisingly, both sectors have a similar safety record.
My hon. Friend said that if any private-sector companies eventually run trains on Britain's railways, the House must ensure that the safety standards then applicable are identical to those observed by British Rail. I believe that was my hon. Friend's point.
§ Mr. Snape
I am amazed if the hon. Member for Eastleigh (Mr. Milligan) considered that my reply to him was in any way discourteous. I said that he put a perfectly fair point. If the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) thought that I was getting annoyed, or that I was discourteous, he ought to see me on a bad day.
§ Mr. Adley
I thought that the hon. Gentleman was looking for trouble where none existed. I am only suggesting that when it comes to rail safety, and to many other issues, a number of my right hon. and hon. Friends will keep a wary eye on what the Government get up to in the months ahead.
The British Railways Board is committed to running a safe railway; to improving safety in the design, installation and maintenance of rolling stock, infrastructure and buildings, by staff and suppliers; to training and supervising staff and contractors to ensure safety; to adopting the best safety practices from other industries; and unfailingly meeting the legal requirements on health and safety that are placed upon it.
In due course, we will want to know that any future legislation will contain a clear commitment to applying those same rules to any private-sector company that seeks to run trains. We will want to know also who will be responsible for implementing safety rules and for ensuring adherence to them.
One of our difficulties is that this is merely a paving Bill, so perhaps it is inappropriate to have too lengthy a debate on issues that we will consider fully when the final legislation comes before us. However, given that new clause 4 has been selected for debate, I will make a couple of further points.
We have a record of more than 150 years of stringent safety rules applied by the House to the railways, both when they were in the private sector and when they became nationalised. It was right to do so, and I seek assurances from the Government that those strict safety requirements will be maintained. It is a matter of regret that, as usual, we operate double standards in respect of safety, as in other spheres, when dealing with rail passenger safety, as opposed to safety for those who use the roads.
I remind the House that my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport has already given an assurance that should satisfy the Opposition and anyone else at this stage in our legislative proceedings. When Standing Committee A debated the Bill at its fourth sitting on 16 June, I asked my hon. Friend the Minister for one simple assurance:As this legislation proceeds, will he assure us now or at an appropriate time that, whatever arrangements may be made in the future to allow, encourage or enable operators other than British Rail to operate trains, in no circumstances will standards of safety lower than those that we, in this House, have for many generations laid upon both public and private sector operators of our railways be permitted to apply to any other company? I hope that my hon. Friend can satisfy that simple request.My hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport replied:I shall be extremely brief and give my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) that assurance."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A, 16 June 1992; c. 107.]That was short, sharp and succinct, and to the point.
In an earlier debate, the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) got very hot under the collar with my hon. Friend the Minister, over the difference between undertakings given in the House and legislation, but all right hon. and hon. Members know that we are 640 merely debating a paving Bill. In due course, many of us will want to probe further and to satisfy ourselves. We will want to know whether the financial constraints placed on British Rail—such as the insistence on running single tracks when double tracks were operated in the past—have or have not been a safety factor. At some subsequent stage, that matter is one which I, the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East and others will want to probe.
For the present, I am satisfied that we already have an assurance that safety requirements will be built in to the final legislation. I assure the hon. Member for West Bromwich, East that I will be keeping a beady eye on my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport.
§ Mr. Tony Benn (Chesterfield)
I have the honour to represent a mining constituency. As a former Secretary of State for Energy, one of the accomplishments that pleased me most was my ability to bring the mining inspecotorate into the Health and Safety Executive. As those who know anything about the mining industry will appreciate, safety was always a major factor in influencing the Miners Federation of Great Britain, and later the National Union of Mineworkers.
Keir Hardie was elected as a Scottish miner 100 years ago this month, and I had the honour of having his grand-daughter and great grand-daughter to tea today. When I contemplate this legislation, I realise that we are being taken back to the very beginning—even to repealing the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908. Public ownership of the mines was motivated largely by the pressure from miners and a desire to raise safety levels.
Aneurin Bevan used to ask, "Why look in the crystal ball when it is written in the book?" I refer to a document that has been in my possession for 58 years. In 1935, as a child of 10, I canvassed in a constituency, and I found in my archives a leaflet relating to mining safety issued that year by the Miners Federation of Great Britain. It is headed "The Price of Coal", and goes on to say that 7,839 miners were killed and 1,200,042 injured between 1927 and 1934. The dead included231 boys under 16, 320 lads between 16 and 18, and 294 lads between 18 and 20. The killed and injured include 199,612 lads and boys under 20…The output of coal per man shift has increased by nearly a third since 1924, but wages…have gone down by nearly a sixth…the miners claim an extra two shillings per shift. They offer to abide by the decision of independent arbitrators. The coalowners have refused independent arbitration. The 'national' Government has…refused to take action. The 'national' Government is always on the side of the coalowners.Those figures are more relevant to safety than a comparison between the private and public railways in Japan. This country had a long history of exploitation of miners for profit before public ownership, at the cost of lives and safety. Many miners fear that they will pay a heavy price for a return to privatisation, when the coal industry will compete with those of Colombia and South Africa and orimulsion and other hideous materials will be brought in. Their lives, wages and living conditions will be sacrificed.
The facts that I have just read out relate to a time before nationalisation. They explain why the miners wanted nationalisation so much. Whatever criticism may be made of the Coal Board—especially of British Coal, the way in which it has been run under MacGregor and the thugs whom the Government put in to crush the NUM—the fact remains that, in the context of safety, the relationship 641 between the old Coal Board and the NUM was very good. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) said that it had deteriorated since the strike, but that was a product of the miners' defeat in 1985.
§ Mr. Mark Wolfson (Sevenoaks)
The right hon. Gentleman is presenting us with an historical scenario. I accept that I have not the same experience of a subject in which he has a great and continuing interest. Does he not agree, however, that the legislative control of safety in industries of every kind, from aviation to oil exploration, has moved on? Why should the position necessarily be different in the mining industry?
§ Mr. Benn
The hon. Gentleman is right. We have moved on—backwards. When we debated industrial safety before the general election, Mr. Brandon-Bravo—a Conservative Member who subsequently lost his seat—asked what connection hours of work had with safety. I interrupted him at that point. If a Concorde pilot spent 18 hours a day flying, would that constitute "moving on"? Safety and hours of work are integral: that is why so many protections exist.
I do not expect to convert the Minister. I am using Hansard, as I always do, to inform those who read my speech of what they will not read in The Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail and the Daily Express; that is the purpose of speaking in the House. The Government are winding back safeguards for safety, wages and conditions that it took years of struggle to establish.
British Rail workers have told me—this applies equally to pit workers—that if they report safety hazards, they could be dismissed on the ground that their evidence might damage the company. Safety factors that should be brought into the public domain—if there is an accident, people will ask, "Why did we not know?"—are being suppressed in the interests of the railways. That will happen even more when the railways become a private enterprise.
Let me alert those who read my speech to a way to avoid dismissal. If they petition the House of Commons about safety matters, they cannot be sacked by their employers, because they will be covered by privilege. I am a member of the Privileges Committee; it is not the most exciting Committee on which to serve, as it seems to be concerned chiefly with ensuring that an Official Secrets Act governs the work of Committees as tightly as such an Act controls Government business. Since being appointed to the Committee, however, I have secured a victory in regard to privilege.
A Birmingham shop steward opposed the road race there, which was part of legislation promoted by Birmingham city council, and he petitioned the House. A Birmingham Member drew attention to what had happened: the shop steward had been transferred by the Birmingham city corporation because he had complained about a Bill promoted by his employers. I argued his case strongly in the Privileges Committee, and I am happy to say that the Committee decided that Birmingham city council had been guilty of a breach of privilege. If people who work on the railways or in the mines have any doubts about safety provision and fear dismissal for reporting 642 those doubts to the press, they should approach the House of Commons. Any Member of Parliament can present a petition, and the petitioner cannot be sacked as a result.
I never thought that privilege—a mediaeval arrangement—would be of use to the modern generation, but, as the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Mr. Wolfson) said earlier, we have moved on. We have moved on to a point at which ancient safeguards are being dismantled, and we must return to even earlier safeguards. I undertake to provide workers with petition forms, and to read out their petitions so that they cannot be sacked.
We are going back to the days of "blood on coal". That was the phrase that we used to hear: when people said that coal was more expensive after nationalisation, I heard miners say in the House in 1950, "There is no blood on the coal now." The Bill aims to increase profit at the expense of safety and at the expense of the wages and conditions of railwaymen and miners. It is a bad Bill, but, if we can put the case across, people will at least understand what it is really about and will be able to protect themselves from the consequences.
§ Mr. Keith Hill (Streatham)
My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) is right. In recent years, a new rule has been introduced into the British Rail rule book—rule 114(b), known to rail workers as the gagging clause. That rule threatens any rail worker who publicises a defect in the railway system with disciplinary action up to the point of dismissal. It is a scandal that such an infringement of civil liberties has been introduced into the rule book, and I hope that it will be rescinded under privatisation. I fear that that will not happen, but Opposition Members have always made it clear that its withdrawal would be one of our first tasks in government.
New clause 4 rightly draws attention to the rigoruous safety regime that will be necessary after privatisation. In the railway industry, the closest attention will have to be paid to the operating qualifications of potential owners and franchisees. It is self-evident that, in this country and in Europe as a whole—indeed, worldwide—the experience of the private sector in railway operation is extremely limited. Railway operation is potentially a highly dangerous business, and this country is fortunate enough to have some of the highest standards. There can be no question of any relaxation of those standards; that is why we need close scrutiny of, and the strictest assurances about, the safety record and the policies of potential operators.
In Committee, we had the benefit of detailed discussion about safety matters relating to the railways. On behalf of the Government, the Minister for Energy gave the Opposition a number of reassurances in response to their questions about future railway safety arrangements. Those assurances were reasonably encouraging, and I am grateful to the Minister for Public Transport for his prompt response in writing to me about other matters of concern, as he promised in Committee. I have drawn those replies to the attention of my sponsoring union, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers.
Although we remain opposed to the privatisation project as a whole, we are in some measure reassured at this stage by the replies that we have received. There remains, however, one important matter on which clarification is still required. I shall turn to it shortly and look forward to the Minister's response.
643 The Government have now offered various forms of undertakings as to the safety requirements that they envisage in paving the way for the possible transfer of ownership and any new franchising arrangements.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Cryer
Did the Minister at any stage say that there would be no legislative attempt to water down absolute legislative provisions and to govern those provisions by the words "so far as reasonably practicable"? By the insertion of those words, the Government remove absolute standards built into the legislation over the years. That is scandalous. My guess is that the Minister will not give such a guarantee because that is what the Government want to do.
§ Mr. Hill
I recognise my hon. Friend's wide and long experience and interest in the railway industry. To the best of my recollection, those assurances were not given. In the discussions and debates on the substantive measure that we expect in the autumn, we shall have to make sure that those provisions are included in the Bill.
In response to the concern which has been expressed at reports that the Government were applying pressure on British Rail to complete its safety standards by the end of September this year, I am pleased to say that they have stated clearly that that is not the case. In response to the concern about whether potential operators will be required to meet specific safety standards, the Minister for Public Transport wrote to me saying that those specific standards will be required. I was pleased to hear that. The Minister has also said that those specific standards will be monitored and enforced. Given the staff shortages and the burden of work facing British Rail's audit department, there was concern about this aspect. It is to be assumed that the Government will ensure that the monitoring and enforcement agencies will be properly financed and properly equipped for the new task before them.
We have also raised questions about the date on which access of non-British Rail operators to the system will take place—again against the background of reports that the Government envisage that such access will occur from 1 January 1993. The Minister has explained that this date applies only to a specific and limited category of international services affected by European Community directive 91/440—certain international groupings of railway undertakings and operators of international combined transport in all European Community countries. When the Minister wrote to me, he also said:More general rights of access for operators of domestic services will not be available until after the main privatisation legislation has received Royal Assent and the necessary regulatory schemes established.If we are to have a privatised railway system, that is certainly what we would expect Government policy to be. It is therefore in this context and in the context of the concerns set out in new clause 4 that I finally seek clarification of the time scale in relation to the introduction of new operators to the network.
In the report presented to the Secretary of State by the Health and Safety Executive entitled, "Ensuring Safety on a Liberalised Railway", there is a reference on page 6 to the Government's intention to liberalise access in three phases. The second and third phases relate to the need to implement European Community Directive 91/440 and to the Government's larger plan for full liberalisation, with both of which we are familiar. However, the first phase, 644 and this is central to new clause 4, involves a request made to British Rail by the Government—I emphasise "by the Government"—to co-operate voluntarily with Government policy by allowing new, independent operators on to the network.
The logic of that phasing appears to mean that British Rail is being asked to permit access prior to the enactment of the legislation. I accept that the legislation in question could be legislation implementing the European Community directive and not legislation leading to full liberalisation, but there remains a general uncertainty, notwithstanding the Minister's written reassurances that British Rail may be required to allow domestic operators on to the system from 1 January 1993.
The Minister is aware that according to the Health and Safety Executive the process of reworking the railways' current operational and technical standards, to be applied to all operators, will take until 1994. It is widely recognised that this is an enormously complex and time-consuming process. The Health and Safety Executive alludes to the fact that it took a team of British Rail engineers no fewer than six months to write the engineering specification for the introduction of the Foster Yeoman locomotives, the only example so far of a private concern running operational services on the network.
§ Mr. Milligan
The hon. Gentleman is wrong when he says that Foster Yeoman is the only company operating a private service. Other companies do that. Tiger Rail and a number of other services, such as the Orient Express and the Scottish Highland service, are run by private companies.
§ Mr. Hill
I was referring to Foster Yeoman's involvement in the operation of locomotives and to the fact that that is the most expensive operation of locomotives on British Rail's network. There is also expensive and extensive running of privately owned wagons on the system, but locomotive operation is primarily in the hands of Foster Yeoman.
§ The Minister for Public Transport (Mr. Roger Freeman)
I anticipate that my hon. Friend the Minister for Energy will be winding up the debate if he catches your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker, but it may help if I respond briefly to that point. Events have moved on since my right hon. Friend the then Secretary of State for Transport's letter to British Rail about voluntary access. He never envisaged that British Rail would do other than provide the drivers for those trains, but I can confirm that we propose to publish a White Paper and to introduce legislation. Access to the domestic railway network by franchised trains and third party operators must wait until we have a proper regime for charging for track access and until we have received the advice of the Health and Safety Executive and the commission on the safe operation of the railways.
§ Mr. Hill
I am most grateful to the Minister. The purpose of my speech may well be said to have been fulfilled by that reassurance. The framework of the new safety regime on British Rail must lie in the hands of British Rail officials whose skill and experience will not be available to new operators. How could it be? That is why the question of the date of access is vital to many of those 645 involved in the railway industry. That is why both they and I welcome the precise reassurance that we have received on this.
§ Mr. Paddy Tipping (Sherwood)
The safety and health of mineworkers must be the paramount consideration in the mining industry.Those are not my words but those of the Minister for Energy, speaking in Nottinghamshire only a few weeks ago. They are supported by the management and work force of British Coal.
British Coal has the best safety record in the world. It is twice as good as Germany's and five times better than that of the United States. It is between 50 and 100 times safer to work for British Coal than in South Africa, Russia, Colombia or China. It is important to realise that the safety record of private contractors operating in the same mines as British Coal is twice as bad.
British Coal's safety record is second to none, but it can be improved, and in parts of the coalfields people have worked to achieve that improvement. About two years ago, the safety record of the Nottinghamshire group was one of the poorest in the country; today, it is the best. In the past year, there have been no fatal accidents in the Nottinghamshire group. There has been a 34 per cent. improvement in the three-day accident period, and a 24 per cent. target has been set for the current financial year. It appears that that target will be met, because in the first two months of the year the figure is 60 per cent. better than for the same period last year.
Within two years, the Nottinghamshire group's safety record has gone from being one of the poorest in the country to the best. It is important to focus on why that has happened. In part, it is due to good new equipment—investment in plant and equipment is important—but it is important to recognise the real reason: British Coal training and educating the work force and taking time to work with men so that their safety and the safety of their colleagues is seen to be important. That is the real cost to the organisation, but it is an asset in terms of lack of injury and of fatalities.
That has been achieved by creating a corporate culture of safety, where everybody works to achieve safety. It is important to note that it has not been done by policing or by the mines inspectorate setting high standards.
§ Mr. Eggar
I completely agree with what the hon. Gentleman says: Nottinghamshire has a tremendous record. He said that the benefit was a loss of injuries and fatalities, which is a tremendous benefit, but does not good safety training in turn lead to more productive mineworkers and mining methods? It is not only a good investment for people's health but a good economic investment.
§ Mr. Tipping
It certainly is, but the problem facing the industry is the drive for productivity. Pits throughout the country increased their productivity by 100 per cent. in the past five years. Men have been removed from the workplace to be trained. Gains have been made elsewhere, but the cost of that training is a loss of productivity.
That training record is under attack. The pit deputies' role is under threat. The 10th draft of the administrative package is out for consultation and debate. The real 646 tension is about that new draft. At present, the pit deputies and the National Association of Colliery Overmen, Deputies and Shotfirers look after safety. Their role will be changed radically from being whistle-blowers concerned about maintaining safety in the pit to being involved in productivity. There are clear dangers in that confused role. As the Health and Safety Commission has recognised in writing to the Minister, privatisation poses British Coal and the deep-coal industry a real challenge. It is clear to me—I think that it is clear to everybody who works in the industry—that under privatisation productivity and profit will have to increase even more.
I do not know what the final shape of the industry will be in 18 months' time, but it is clear to me that the remaining collieries will have to increase output and profit. The rush to profit and increased productivity will lead to corner-cutting, because men's jobs will depend entirely on their pit being a viable entity. The new owners of the industry should have to comply with the high safety standards that are set by British Coal.
Those concerns are echoed in the letter from the Health and Safety Commission to the Minister. It says:It will be essential to ensure the continuance of the strong safety culture which exists in mining.It points to the need for increased regulation.
What I want to argue, and what people in the industry understand, is that it is not regulation that makes safe pits but investment in training and education for safety. That will be under threat even more, depending on the final shape of the privatised coal industry. The high standards in the mining industry are set by British Coal; it is the standard bearer of the world. If the privatised industry is not a unitary but a binary model or a model with many other parts, safeguarding those high standards will be extremely difficult, and later this year we shall have to discuss how the mines rescue service will fit into a privatised industry and how information about accidents and injuries can be disseminated across the earth. Who will do the work that British Coal does on maintaining good-quality safety standards and research into them?
Those are all key issues. The real threat is the knowledge among the work force and management that they must ensure a super-productive privatised industry. If men struggle to save and maintain their jobs, and if their job depends entirely on the output and profit of their colliery, we shall be in danger of returning to the bad old days when there really was blood on the coals.
§ Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)
An accident that took place on the British Rail Edinburgh-Glasgow line at Polmont was caused by a lack of fencing, which allowed cattle to stray on the line. My question is exceedingly succinct. British Rail has an enormous mileage of line through agricultural land. It maintains fencing and suitable barriers to prevent agricultural livestock from going on to rail. Normally, it has been successful. Who will bear the considerable costs in future?
My second question is that raised in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). Who will he responsible for the British Transport police and to whom will they report—to the Department of Transport or to the Home Office, or is there to be a relationship between the transport police and the private operators? I have a particular reason for asking because two of my constituents raised that matter.
647 I was not a member of the Committee, and those who were not members should be brief when called to speak. I end by saying that I hope that the Government will consider carefully what Jimmy Knapp, the general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport Union, said at the end of last week in Llandudno about a proper safety code. I leave it at that.
§ Mr. Eric Clarke
As an ex-miner, I can say that miners have earned the right to demand safety. My forefathers and many people in the mining industry paid a high price for the legislation that has been passed, even by this Parliament. We seem to learn only after disasters. We were continually upgrading legislation, supposedly to make life easier, but sometimes legislation was not enacted because there was no organisation to represent the workers. In other words, there was no trade union strong enough to ensure that people who were victimised for raising safety matters were protected; but that is in the past.
To many people, privatisation means unsafe working, poorer health and hygiene and a high accident rate staring them in the face. At the moment, none of the miners in the privatised mines have self-rescuers, which belong to the miners. They were introduced after a fire in the Michael colliery in Fife when men died of suffocation from the inhalation of fumes. If they had had the self-rescuers, they could have gone through the smoke-filled atmosphere into safety and fresh air. The device operates for approximately an hour. An hour will enable a fit man to cover a fair distance underground to reach safety.
Self-rescuers are worn on the miner's belt and belong to him. Privatised mines cannot afford them or do not have them, although British Coal has. What will happen to self-rescuers? Their upkeep and cost are part and parcel of the running of a colliery, but they are a glaring example of what might happen after privatisation. Will the standards he lowered or will the privatised mines come up to the standard of British Coal?
Many other activities have been mentioned, and I refer specifically to those mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping). What will happen to the rescue brigades which, like the fire brigades, employ people full time? People are on call for a disaster or for any other incident. In between their activities, they maintain their high standards and train people who volunteer as local, part-time rescue brigades. In other words, they maintain the very high standards of a good organisation. What will happen to the first-aid teams and the research and development for new methods?
New materials are being introduced into collieries. The disaster to which I referred was caused by polyurethane being used as filler in gaps in the roof. It was discovered to be highly inflammable, and we all know what happened when it was used in upholstery. It was used in furniture for ordinary houses and people died not from the heat of the fire but from the fumes. Underground, it is 100 times worse, because of the confined area and because there is only one source of air.
Another important aspect is the role of individual members. At the moment, we have workmen's inspectors. By law, they are entitled to examine their own place of work and to involve a particular manager when doing their one, two, three, inspections. Their investigative report must be displayed at the colliery. Within seven days the manager must reply to any comments and act accordingly. A copy of the report also goes to Her Majesty's 648 inspectorate of mines. In other words, such an inspection is not merely a matter of habit and is not done at the whim of a manager. It is enshrined in the Coal Mines Act 1911 that a person has the right to have his workplace examined and a report sent to the colliery manager for Her Majesty's inspectorate of mines to comment. The trade union also receives a copy of the report in order for its full-time mines' inspectors to follow it up. It is a foolproof method to eliminate accidents before they happen. Every part of the colliery is open for inspection.
We—meaning the trade union movement—take second place to no one in spending money and effort on training our workmen to be competent inspectors, in conjunction with Her Majesty's inspectorate of mines and the management. Will that go by the board after privatisation? Will it be diluted? Will new legislation be introduced?
Albert Wheeler went to the United States and returned with a plan. He found that British machinery for extracting coal was having a phenomal success in long wall production, which was new at the time, as was German machinery of the same type. It was said to bring fantastic production which was colossal in comparison to ours. However, there was a price to be paid. The miners had to go in at the height of the coal. If the coal was 4.5 ft high, that was the height of the roadway. There was no extraction of rock to allow a man to stand up. When he went down the mine or into the slant mine, he did not stand upright until he emerged from the pit.
Even the roof was held up roof bolting—not by girders or props, but by screwing a bolt into the roof. That is putting it crudely, although it was much more technical. I assure the House that it would terrify anyone who went down the mine, because there was no visible means of support. However, men worked—and do work—in those conditions for seven days a week in 12-hour shifts with huge bonuses for the workers at the point of production. Everyone else is paid peanuts, to use American phraseology.
Mr. Wheeler thinks that such a system was marvellous. Lung disease—or black lung, as it is known in America—was at its highest because of the dust count and, in addition, some roadways or sections in the collieries were single roadways. There was not even an ingang or ausgang, as it is called in mining terms. There was only one way in, and we know what happens when a one-way road is closed. Safety was pushed to one side, and that is not an example we should follow. The industry does not want to implement the Wheeler report, or any similar plan.
I want the industry transferred from public ownership with safety absolutely guaranteed. The safety measures which we take for granted must continue, with no dilution of the role of Her Majesty's inspectorate of mines. There must be no dilution of the role of the deputies or of any other senior officials connected with safety or production in the collieries.
I said in Committee that safety does not always mean that one does not get production; the truth is the opposite. Safety means production. The Piper Alpha disaster in the North sea was a disaster for production. Of course, it was a bigger disaster for the people who died and for their dependents.
There are lessons to be learned. We do not need to tell members of my organisation the facts. We must tell the management and the people who are pushing for 649 maximum production. I am pleased to see the results of some of our activities. I hope that our efforts will rub off on Conservative Members, on the Minister and even on the Government.
I cannot say enough about safety. As I said in Committee, there is a plaque to Alexander Macdonald. who was a Liberal Member of Parliament in the 1890s. There was no Labour party in those days. Few Liberals know about coal mining, but Alexander Macdonald did. He was a unique individual. The plaque was put up because he brought about legislation that the miners wanted, deserved and needed. We do not put plaques up to dead people for no reason, although I must admit that, when I see some of the plaques in Westminster abbey and in other places, I wonder. Miners put up the plaque to Alexander Macdonald and they are practical individuals who appreciate people who help them. I hope that Alexander Macdonald will not be forgotten, either by the miners or by the Government.
§ Mr. McCartney
It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke). He has been a friend of my father's for almost 30 years in the trade union movement. My earliest memory of my hon. Friend and some of his colleagues in the National Union of Mineworkers dates back to 1959. In my own town of Kirkintilloch, there was a mining disaster through which eight young lads at my school and in the surrounding area lost their fathers. The Auchingeich disaster was caused by a fire in a fanbelt which then engulfed the whole colliery. No one came out of the colliery. On the Sunday after the disaster, I walked with all the community behind a huge cross and stood by the pit gang looking down on the colliery. As a youngster, I took in what had happened and what could happen in future to that community.
When we talk about safety for the mining community, we talk from the experience of our people, not from what we have read in books. Every change in the law in the past 100 years has come about not because of compassion or because of argument by articulate miners through their union, but because of massive disasters.
This debate concerns the historical protection of the mining industry. It is unique in the industries of Britain because of the regulations that have been introduced not to protect the employers' rights in law, but to protect the employees' rights in law. That is not the case in any other British industry.
Under the Health and Safety at Work, etc, Act 1974 and under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 1988, employers should take steps to avoid risk and to improve conditions. That can be done by weighing costs against benefits to the employers. Outside the mining industry, the health and safety of industrial and office workers is balanced by an analysis of cost benefits and what the employer believes is an appropriate risk. They consider whether it is more appropriate to avoid the risk by taking action to improve the position or whether the cost of taking those appropriate steps is far too high. When the employers have carried out a risk assessment, if they believe that the risk is worth taking in financial terms, it will be taken. That is not the position in the mining industry and we do not want it to be the position after privatisation.
The new clause is vital. I do not mean to criticise my hon. Friends, but I believe that they have been a little shy in coming forward in the way in which they have phrased 650 it. I hope that the Minister will accept the new clause. By accepting it or by agreeing to introduce a more appropriately extensive amendment in another place, the Government will reassure the industry.
My hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) has been less than generous to himself in the wording of the new clause. There are four clear areas that the new clause should cover if it is to mean anything for the railway and mining industries after privatisation. First, the companies concerned must issue a general statement about their approach to health, safety and welfare. It must be made clear that health and safety are as important as production in terms of the organisation's objectives. That should be a statutory requirement.
Secondly, there must be a clear chain of duty in the organisation from the employers to the employees concerning employees' rights under that general policy. Every employee must know whom to consult on safety matters. Someone must be designated at the point of employment to represent employees on health and safety matters, whether those employees work underground. above ground, in railway workshops or in the railway network. Those individuals should have statutory rights to training and to time off with pay for that training.
Thirdly, employers must describe the detailed steps that they are taking to eliminate hazards in each job. There must be a statement about the general environment, including keeping roadways and gangways clear, and keeping doorways clean and in a safe condition. That statement must also include details about noise levels, lighting and welfare facilities. It is vital that such matters should be included in the Bill. There must he details about each machine, substance and process in the pit or railway workshop. Without that, the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act cannot be operated effectively on behalf of the employees.
Contractors will increasingly be brought into the mining industry. For workers such as contractors and those on night shifts, there must be clear statements that those who work in special conditions are also covered by the general policy statement on health and safety and that they are also represented by the designated health and safety officer on site. There must be a right for employees to be informed, and to be involved in training and refresher courses introduced by the employer.
Fourthly, consultation is vital. There must be a continuing commitment to the assessment of risk, to the revising of the assessment of risk and to the updating procedures and policies to eliminate risk. If the new clause is to mean anything in reality, those four basic requirements must be included. That is not simply a debating point for the Chamber and it is not enough for us all to go away happy in the knowledge that we have fought the good fight. Fighting the good fight here is irrelevant to people who are 600 or 700 ft down, to people who are working in a railway workshop or to people who are working with substances that can be hazardous to health.
One of the main reasons why I and my hon. Friends in the safety lobby of the Labour movement are concerned about the Government is that, from November 1991 until recently, there have been various announcements by Ministers and hints from British Coal that there will be changes to underground working hours. A regulation on working hours has been in force since 1908.
651 It ill becomes the Government to say that the reason for change is that they must implement European legislation. What a cheek! The Government have fought tooth and nail about implementing European health and safety regulations that benefit workers. They seem to believe that they can amend the one regulation that will assist the new privatised industry to undermine working conditions for underground workers. That is totally unacceptable and the Minister should give a clear commitment that no British Government will introduce legislation or commit themselves to regulations from Europe that will undermine the Coal Mines Regulation Act 1908.
Whenever the Prime Minister answers questions about Europe at the Dispatch Box, he makes it clear that the House will be responsible for our legislation. If that is the case, the Minister for Energy must make it clear that he will not implement anything that will undermine that position.
The Health and Safety Commission proposes to undermine regulations about silicosis. Silicosis is one of the most dangerous hazards known to miners. It is black lung and it causes pneumoconiosis. Each year, thousands of industrial workers die, are severely injured or have to retire early from work as a result of the effects of silicosis. Until the announcement by the HSC, we had the strongest anti-silicosis legislation in Europe. However, harmonising downwards is not acceptable because, over the next decade or more, thousands of workers will leave work early because of black lung disease, pneumoconiosis and cancer-related diseases.
We are not prepared to accept an undermining of those principles. Will the Minister for Energy agree to meet a deputation of Opposition Members? If necessary, we will work with the Government to ensure that the proposals of the HSC which, after all, is supposed to represent workers, are not implemented and to ensure that the present legislation is protected. Workers would then be able to go to work even in dangerous conditions and have at least the minimum standard required to ensure that they leave the pit in one piece at the end of a shift and, at the end of their working lives, they do not die from black lung disease or pneumoconiosis.
§ Mr. Clapham
New clause 4 is appropriate for British Rail and British Coal, but I want to relate my remarks to British Coal. My right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) and my hon. Friend the Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) eloquently explained how the safety culture in mining had been brought about from the bitter experiences in the inter-war years to the position after 1947 when market forces were largely mitigated within the new National Coal Board. As a result of that, the safety record was improved.
British Coal is now the safest deep coal mining industry in the world. That record has evolved through the co-operation of the work force and the management. However, my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield identified the strains that caused the safety position to deteriorate in the inter-war years and no doubt they will re-emerge following privatisation.
Since 1980, protection for the British coal mining industry has been revoked and we have seen how pressure passes from the international coal market through the industry to reach collieries. That pressure will intensify and it is clear that with such pressure in a privatised industry, corners will be cut. It is essential that the 652 Government accept new clause 4 so that the powers under the Mines and Quarries Act 1954 can be passed on and that strong legislation and the powerful safety culture can be continued.
As the Minister for Energy is aware, throughout the 1980s the industry went through a second technical revolution. Mining is now a semi-automated process. The number of men employed on a coal face today is much smaller than it was just 10 years ago. Some coal faces of 250 m are run with only five men. There have been enormous achievements in productivity. As the Minister is aware, productivity has increased by 150 per cent. since the miners' strike ended in 1985. That increase in productivity has occurred because of the application of a skilled work force and high technology. At the same time, the number of serious injuries and fatalities has fallen. That is a great tribute to the men and to management.
My hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) stressed that British Coal has a better safety record than its competitors in Australia, America and south America. He drew our attention to the safety record of private mines in this country. People do not often compare the safety record of private mines with that of British Coal. There are 160 private mines in the country and the record of fatalities and serious injuries in private mines is greater than it is in the publicly owned industry.
There are 1,800 people employed in the private deep mining sector and there were two fatalities last year. That is one fatality per 900 workers. For British Coal, the equivalent figure is one per 5,000 workers. Would privatisation result in a diminution in safety standards and thus lead to a large decrease in safety in the public sector? That aspect is worrying the miners unions, particularly when they consider the mining companies which operate in America, Australia and South Africa.
We urge the Minister to look carefully at the present position in British Coal and particularly the role of the deputies. The deputy's safety role is paramount. He is a supervisor who is responsible for production, but he is also responsible for safety. Together with the workmen's inspectors as provided under section 123 of the Mines and Quarries Act 1954, the deputies have managed to achieve a reduction in the number of accidents and likely incidents.
The Minister should ensure that the role of the deputy continues irrespective of the structure of the privatised industry. The deputy's role is essential for safety. Section 123 inspectors should also be retained, perhaps with improved powers. Under a privatised industry in future, a section 123 inspector should have the right to stop a job if he determines that there are unsafe practices or that a machine is defective. He should be able to do that without any fear of retribution as a result of those decisions.
The Minister for Energy should consider those suggestions seriously and ensure that, whatever form the privatised industry takes, we have deputies and section 123 inspectors, perhaps with improved powers. In that way, we can ensure that the strong safety culture continues.
§ Mr. Eggar
The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) said that it was not possible to say enough about safety. I understand that, but I shall try to pick up as many points that have been made by hon. Members as possible. The hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) asked me to agree to see a delegation on 653 safety matters. Yes, of course: if he wishes to come to talk to me with some of his colleagues, I shall be delighted to see him.
I do not think that there is any disagreement that, whatever system of privatisation is implemented, it is absolutely critical that the safety regime in the coal and rail industries will exist with a view, at the very least, to maintaining what are already by common consent impressive safety standards, and improving them. That objective underlines the Government's approach to safety in the rail and coal industries as we make our decisions on privatisation.
We have to continue with uniformly—I stress the word "uniformly"—rigorous safety standards. I agree with the hon. Member for Sherwood (Mr. Tipping) that we cannot have possible—I stress the word "possible"—fragmentation of the coal industry, leading to a loss of safety knowledge or an impairment of safety information transmission systems. That is why I took particular note of the HSC's proposal that there might be some industry-wide safety arrangements and a safety committee.
Several hon. Members asked questions about safety in the rail industry. The hon. Member for West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) referred mainly to that matter. We will, of course, set out our safety proposals in the White Paper, but the key principles will be, first, that the HSE will have responsibility for setting out and monitoring standards, as at present—it will have the same role. Secondly, the franchised railway passenger companies will individually be responsible for safe operation. Thirdly, the track authority which will be responsible for track and signalling will have overall responsibility for the day-to-day safe running of the railway. I hope that that deals with the questions of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr. Adley) and other hon. Members, but I fear that it might not.
§ Mr. Eggar
The record will show that the track authority will have overall responsibility for the day-to-day safe running on the railway. Of course, even if my hon. Friend's supposition is right as to who that track authority will be, he will have to wait and find confirmation in the White Paper.
The hon. Member for Linlithgow (Mr. Dalyell) raised the circular question of fencing and who will pay for it. That is clearly a matter for the main Bill, and I shall draw it to the attention of my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport. The British Transport police and to whom they report are also being considered at the moment. I expect more detail about that in the White Paper. I hope that that satisfies the hon. Gentleman.
§ Mr. Dalyell
I am a little puzzled, as that matter was raised in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay). There are crucial decisions that could fairly easily be made in favour of making the British Transport police responsible to a Government Department. If there is no decision, is it not a little alarming to think that the transport police will report to private organisations? What other explanation do we deduce from the Minister's hesitation?
§ Mr. Eggar
I am always keen to try to help the hon. Gentleman. I can say no more than that the answer will be made clear in the White Paper, which is due for publication, I understand, in the fairly near future. Of course, the hon. Gentleman will be able to comment on that point.
Most of the debate has concentrated on safety in the coal mining industry. I was fascinated by what the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) had to say, with his 1935 leaflet. Nobody is disputing for a moment the catastrophic safety record that existed before nationalisation in many—not all—private mines. Everyone who has any knowledge of economic history recognises the considerable sacrifices that were made by many miners and their families.
The supposition on which the right hon. Gentleman based his thesis was that somehow, because ownership of the mines will be returned to the private sector, we will be re-creating the pre-nationalisation safety record. That is not borne out by the record of the private mining industry, for example. It has considerably improved its record. One can always discuss safety statistics, but its record is more or less comparable with that of British Coal. As everybody knows, British Coal's record is among the best in the world.
The other thesis that the right hon. Gentleman advanced is that there had been a deterioration in safety since the Scargill strike. He put that down to a lack of relationship between the union and management. His hon. Friend the Member for Sherwood gave the right hon. Gentleman part of the answer. There was and has been clear improvement in Nottinghamshire over the past three years because of a major effort by management and the work force. According to the statistics, since the Scargill strike there has been a steady decline in the rate per 100,000 man shifts of all reported injuries. That is a very sharp and welcome decline. The right hon. Gentleman's basic thesis seems to be severely flawed.
The hon. Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) referred to the employment of disabled people. I can assure him publicly that I shall respond to his points in writing. If he will forgive me, I will not take the time of the House on that matter now.
The hon. Member for Midlothian raised, as he has done on previous occasions, his concerns about roof bolting and its safety implications. I do not know whether I have done so before, and if so I apologise, but I invite the hon. Gentleman to visit Rufford colliery which I have visited and which is pioneering roof bolting. That colliery is in the constituency of the hon. Member for Sherwood. The hon. Member for Midlothian should talk to the men and the NACODS deputy there about what they think about the method of roof bolting that is being introduced in that mine.
I accept that the simple transfer of American roof bolting practices into United Kingdom geological conditions would give rise to considerable concern and would not be approved by the HSC. They are different geologically, and the stresses, particularly where there are overhead workings, are different. I recommend that the hon. Gentleman make that visit if he has time during the recess, because it opened my eyes and was interesting.
He also asked about self-rescuers. Licensed mines will be subject to the requirements of the personal protective equipment regulations and, where appropriate, they will be required to provide whatever protective equipment is 655 demanded by the assessment that must he carried out, so there will not be a differential system. The level of risk safety assessment will he important in determining the position of self-rescuers.
The hon. Member for Midlothian (Mr. Clarke) also asked about rescue facilities. I assure him that we are carefully considering the appropriate way forward.
Most hon. Members who spoke raised the question of new changes to the mines health and safety law and particularly its consequences for deputies. As the House knows, those mattes are for the HSC and the HSE. The HSE has carried out extensive consultations and is now on its 10th draft. That consultation process started well before the privatisation issue arose. I assure the House that the new regulations, which are the responsibility of the HSC and HSE, will not mean a change from a statutory to a voluntary basis for the safety inspection and supervision duties currently carried out by deputies. The HSC has always intended that the new proposals will be statutory, so we shall have a chance to consider those.
§ Mr. Benn
One issue with which the Minister has not dealt. to which I and one of my hon. Friends referred, is the penalty of threat of dismissal to British Rail employees now, or possibly to employees in the privatised mines, if they report safety defects which they believe might endanger fellow workers or the public. Will the Minister give an absolute assurance that nobody will be punished for bringing into the public domain defects that may affect the health and safety of others?
§ Mr. Eggar
I would take a dim view of measures taken by management to impair the employment prospects of someone who genuinely—I stress genuinely—expresses concern about safety matters.
A number of hon. Members have spoken about the dedication of the unions and management to high safety standards within coal mines. I have no quarrel with that. I have forgotten which hon. Member stressed that, whatever else happened, the NUM would not go out of its way to defend a member acting in breach of safety regulations. That is an important statement, and I am aware of the commitment within the mining industry to high safety standards. I am not aware of a case like that described by the right hon. Member for Chesterfield, and I shall look into the matter.
§ Mr. Redmond
This is an important point. The Minister is obviously not aware that British Rail suppressed a report. Had those involved brought it to the public's attention, they would doubtless have been transferred down the line. My right hon. Friend made a valid point about the safety of other people. It is vital that, if employees report defects to management, and management do nothing and allow the deterioration or lack of safety to continue, those employees should be protected against disciplinary action if they bring the defect to the public's notice. That must be right for safety.
§ Mr. Eggar
I have much sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says. As he guesses, I am not aware of the circumstance that he cites, but my hon. Friend the Minister for Public Transport was listening to the exchange, and he will look into that matter.
I agree that, if someone reports his safety concerns through the proper channels, it would he quite wrong for 656 disciplinary action to be taken against him. I am not aware of such cases in the mining industry, but if there have been some I would like to look into them and then decide what to say about them.
§ Mr. Eric Clarke
We are talking not just about development but about the approval of plant and machinery and of processes and materials. Machines that go underground have to be approved as safe. I do not want to go into detail now, but this is as important a matter as the others that we have been discussing, and we want assurances on it—without them, there could be disasters.
§ Mr. Eggar
I have noted the hon. Gentleman's point and I will ensure that it is covered. I cannot give him an instant explanation of how we will deal with it: it is one of a number of issues that we will be examining, and I hope that, when the main Bill is published, I w ill be able to satisfy him in the subsequent debates.
§ Mr. Snape
The Minister began by saying that it is not possible to say enough about safety. He has just proved that it is possible to spend 15 minutes without saying a great deal about it. His response was less than satisfactory, especially on the future role of the deputies and the safety inspectorate in the mines. He seemed to use the "leave it to the Health and Safety Executive" technique.
We all admire the work of the HSE. but given the responsibilities being thrust on it for both industries, we need some reassurance that its budget will be considerably increased and that the shortage of personnel qualified to carry out some of these tasks will be dealt with sooner rather than later. As some of my hon. Friends have said, it has been pressure applied to management by those who work in the industry and their representatives that has brought about changes in the legislation governing safety in both industries. I was interested to hear my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn) talk about new clause 4. Once or twice over the years, I have heard him discuss the old clause 4, if memory serves. Be that as it may, he made the right point about deaths in mining. What he said applies equally to deaths in the railway industry.
In the days of steam locomotives and single wagon loads, the rate of attrition among railway workers amounted to two or three people a day. Their deaths did not make the same tragic impact as some of the mine disasters, but both industries proved highly dangerous to those who worked in them. It was largely due to the efforts of those who worked in them and of their trade union representatives that the safety record of both industries improved so much.
We know from the history books that improvements such as continuous brakes on trains, proper signalling systems, the abolition of gas lighting in railway rolling stock and better hours of work came about because of pressure by workers. Those improvements cost a great deal and were consequently opposed by the private sector managers of the day, many of whom, bewhiskered and top-hatted, sat on the Conservative Benches, as some of them still do—[Interruption.]
Conservative Members groan, but I must remind them that it was only the railway directors and mine owners of 100 years ago who proved resistant to safety measures. I invite them to cast their minds back five years to the Zeebrugge disaster and to memos signed by the 657 management of Townsend Thoresen about the need for proper systems to alert the captain that bow doors had been properly closed. We all remember some of the sarcastic comments made by the managers in the margins of those reports. They were: "Nice, what would they like next? How much namby-pamby effort do we need?"
The authorship of the comments was denied in the wake of the Zeebrugge disaster, but they show that private sector transport management has always been concerned about the impact of safety measures on budgets. On many occasions private sector management has resisted improvements.
§ Mr. Snape
My right hon. Friend graphically illustrates the fact that those who cross management for any reason are all too often labelled terrorists or, to bring the parlance up to date, as militants by management who always resist improvements.
It is not just the private sector which is at fault, nor is it always in the past that safety improvements have been resisted. My hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Mr. Redmond) spoke about a railway employee who wrote a critical report about sectorisation on British Rail and the causes of the Newton train accident. The report was written not by an ordinary rank-and-file railwayman, but by Peter Rayner, who was the regional operating manager of the former London Midland region. Because of his trenchant criticisms of sectorisation and its impact on railway safety, he was, if I may use the railway term, shunted into a non-job and then shunted out of the industry.
That safety manager blew the whistle on unsafe practices caused, in his opinion, by sectorisation. Such problems will be much worse when private operators are franchised to run parts of the railway system in the way that the Government envisage. On this, as on so many other issues, the Minister's reply was inadequate, because he does not know. The Government argue, "Leave it to us. Just vote the necessary expenditure and leave the rest to us. We will publish a White Paper."
As I said in Committee, if the mayor and leading councillors in the borough of Sandwell turned up at the Department of the Environment and asked to be allowed to spend millions of pounds on a scheme that they were not prepared to define or tell the Secretary of State about, the men in white coats would rush them away before they could make a presentation. That is what the Bill is about.
§ Mr. Snape
I make no apology for repeating it. I may have made the point better in Committee, but the Minister's response this time was no better. If he does not take the grin off his face, I shall repeat the anecdote on Third Reading and see what sort of response we get then. The Minister's replies on safety were inadequate, and I invite my hon. Friends to support the new clause.
§ Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
§ The House divided: Ayes 226, Noes 267.661
|Division No 43]||[9.15 pm|
|Adams, Mrs Irene||Galbraith, Sam|
|Ainsworth, Robert (Cov'try NE)||Galloway, George|
|Allen, Graham||George, Bruce|
|Alton, David||Gerrard, Neil|
|Anderson, Donald (Swansea E)||Godman, Dr Norman A.|
|Anderson, Ms Janet (Ros'dale)||Godsiff. Roger|
|Ashton, Joe||Graham, Thomas|
|Austin-Walker, John||Grant, Bernie (Tottenham)|
|Barnes, Harry||Griffiths, Nigel (Edinburgh S)|
|Beith, Rt Hon A. J.||Griffiths. Win (Bridgend)|
|Bell, Stuart||Grocott, Bruce|
|Benn, Rt Hon Tony||Gunnell, John|
|Bennett, Andrew F.||Hall, Mike|
|Benton, Joe||Hanson, David|
|Bermingham, Gerald||Harman, Ms Harriet|
|Berry, Roger||Harvey. Nick|
|Betts, Clive||Heppell, John|
|Blair, Tony||Hill. Keith (Streatham)|
|Blunkett, David||Hinchliffe, David|
|Boyce, Jimmy||Hood, Jimmy|
|Boyes, Roland||Howarth, George (Knowsley N)|
|Bradley, Keith||Hoyle, Doug|
|Bray, Dr Jeremy||Hughes, Kevin (Doncaster N)|
|Brown, Gordon (Dunlermline E)||Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N)|
|Brown, N. (N'c'tle upon Tyne E)||Hutton. John|
|Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)||Jackson. Ms Glenda (H'stead)|
|Burden, Richard||Jackson, Ms Helen (Shef'ld, H)|
|Byers, Stephen||Jamieson, David|
|Caborn, Richard||Janner, Greville|
|Campbell, Ms Anne (C'bridge)||Jones, Barry (Alyn and D'side)|
|Campbell, Menzies (Fife NE)||Jones, Jon Owen (Cardiff C)|
|Campbell, Ronald (Blyth V)||Jones. Ms Lynne (B'ham S O)|
|Campbell-Savours, D. N.||Jones. Martyn (Clwyd, SW)|
|Canavan, Dennis||Jones. Nigel (Cheltenham)|
|Cann, James||Jowell. Ms Tessa|
|Chisholm, Malcolm||Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald|
|Clapham, Michael||Keen, Alan|
|Clark, Dr David (South Shields)||Kennedy, Charles (Ross, C & S)|
|Clarke, Eric (Midlothian)||Kennedy, Ms Jane (L'p'l Br'g'n)|
|Clarke, Tom (Monklands W)||Khabra. Piara|
|Clelland, David||Kilfoyle, Peter|
|Clwyd, Mrs Ann||Kirkwood, Archy|
|Coffey, Ms Ann||Leighton, Ron|
|Connarty, Michael||Lestor, Joan (Eccles)|
|Cook, Frank (Stockton N)||Lewis, Terry|
|Cook, Robin (Livingston)||Livingstone, Ken|
|Corbyn, Jeremy||Lloyd. Tony (Stretford)|
|Cousins, Jim||Loyden, Eddie|
|Cryer, Bob||Lynne, Ms Liz|
|Cummings, John||McAllion, John|
|Cunningham, Jim (Covy SE)||McAvoy, Thomas|
|Dalyell, Tarn||McCartney, Ian|
|Darling, Alistair||MacDonald, Calum|
|Davies, Bryan (Oldham C'tral)||McKelvey, William|
|Davies, Rt Hon Denzil (Llanelli)||Mackinlay, Andrew|
|Davies, Ron (Caerphilly)||McLeish, Henry|
|Davis, Terry (B'ham, H'dge H'I)||McMaster, Gordon|
|Denham, John||McNamara, Kevin|
|Dewar, Donald||McWilliam, John|
|Dixon, Don||Madden, Max|
|Dobson, Frank||Mahon, Alice|
|Donohoe, Brian||Mandelson, Peter|
|Dowd, Jim||Marshall, David (Shettleston)|
|Dunnachie, Jimmy||Martin, Michael J. (Springburn)|
|Dun woody, Mrs Gwyneth||Martlew, Eric|
|Eagle, Ms Angela||Maxton, John|
|Eastham, Ken||Meale, Alan|
|Enright, Derek||Michie, Bill (Sheffield Heeley)|
|Etherington, William||Michie, Mrs Ray (Argyll Bute)|
|Evans, John (St Helens N)||Milburn, Alan|
|Faulds, Andrew||Miller, Andrew|
|Flynn, Paul||Mitchell, Austin (Gt Grimsby)|
|Foster, Derek (B'p Auckland)||Moonie, Dr Lewis|
|Foster, Donald (Bath)||Morgan, Rhodri|
|Foulkes, George||Morley, Elliot|
|Fraser, John||Morris, Rt Hon A. (Wy'nshawe)|
|Fyfe, Maria||Morris, Estelle (B'ham Yardley)|
|Morris, Rt Hon J. (Aberavon)||Short, Clare|
|Mowlam, Marjorie||Simpson, Alan|
|Mudie, George||Skinner, Dennis|
|Mullin, Chris||Smith, Andrew (Oxford E)|
|Oakes, Rt Hon Gordon||Smith, C. (Isl'ton S & F'sbury)|
|O'Brien, Michael (N W'kshire)||Smith, Rt Hon John (M'kl'ds E)|
|O'Brien, William (Normanton)||Smith, Llew (Blaenau Gwent)|
|O'Hara, Edward||Snape, Peter|
|Olner, William||Spearing, Nigel|
|O'Neill, Martin||Spellar, John|
|Orme, Rt Hon Stanley||Squire, Rachel (Dunfermline W)|
|Pendry, Tom||Steinberg, Gerry|
|Pickthall, Colin||Stott, Roger|
|Pike, Peter L.||Strang, Gavin|
|Pope, Greg||Straw, Jack|
|Powell, Ray (Ogmore)||Taylor, Mrs Ann (Dewsbury)|
|Prentice, Ms Bridget (Lew'm E)||Taylor, Matthew (Truro)|
|Prentice, Gordon (Pendle)||Tipping, Paddy|
|Primarolo, Dawn||Turner, Dennis|
|Purchase, Ken||Tyler, Paul|
|Quin, Ms Joyce||Vaz, Keith|
|Radice, Giles||Walker, Rt Hon Sir Harold|
|Randall, Stuart||Wallace, James|
|Redmond, Martin||Walley, Joan|
|Reid, Dr John||Wardell, Gareth (Gower)|
|Robertson, George (Hamilton)||Watson, Mike|
|Robinson, Geoffrey (Co'try NW)||Wicks, Malcolm|
|Roche, Ms Barbara||Williams, Rt Hon Alan (Sw'n W)|
|Rogers, Allan||Williams, Alan W (Carmarthen)|
|Rooker, Jeff||Winnick, David|
|Rooney, Terry||Wise, Audrey|
|Ross, Ernie (Dundee W)||Worthington, Tony|
|Rowlands, Ted||Wray, Jimmy|
|Ruddock, Joan||Wright, Tony|
|Sheerman, Barry||Tellers for the Ayes:|
|Sheldon, Rt Hon Robert||Mr. Robert N. Wareing and Mrs. Llin Golding.|
|Shore, Rt Hon Peter|
|Adley, Robert||Carrington, Matthew|
|Ainsworth, Peter (East Surrey)||Carttiss, Michael|
|Aitken, Jonathan||Cash, William|
|Alexander, Richard||Chaplin, Mrs Judith|
|Alison, Rt Hon Michael (Selby)||Clappison, James|
|Allason, Rupert (Torbay)||Clifton-Brown, Geoffrey|
|Amess, David||Coe, Sebastian|
|Ancram, Michael||Colvin, Michael|
|Arbuthnot, James||Congdon, David|
|Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)||Conway, Derek|
|Arnold, Sir Thomas (Hazel Grv)||Coombs, Anthony (Wyre For'st)|
|Aspinwall, Jack||Coombs, Simon (Swindon)|
|Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)||Cope, Rt Hon Sir John|
|Baker, Nicholas (Dorset North)||Cormack, Patrick|
|Banks, Matthew (Southport)||Couchman, James|
|Bates, Michael||Cran, James|
|Batiste, Spencer||Currie, Mrs Edwina (S D'by'ire)|
|Bellingham, Henry||Davies, Quentin (Stamford)|
|Beresford, Sir Paul||Davis, David (Boothferry)|
|Biffen, Rt Hon John||Day, Stephen|
|Blackburn, Dr John G.||Deva, Nirj Joseph|
|Body, Sir Richard||Devlin, Tim|
|Bonsor, Sir Nicholas||Dickens, Geoffrey|
|Bos well, Tim||Dicks, Terry|
|Bottomley, Peter (Eltham)||Dorrell, Stephen|
|Bottomley, Rt Hon Virginia||Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James|
|Bowis, John||Dover, Den|
|Boyson, Rt Hon Sir Rhodes||Duncan, Alan|
|Brandreth, Gyles||Duncan-Smith, Iain|
|Brazier, Julian||Dunn, Bob|
|Brooke, Rt Hon Peter||Dykes, Hugh|
|Brown, M. (Brigg & Cl'thorpes)||Eggar, Tim|
|Browning, Mrs. Angela||Elletson, Harold|
|Bruce, Ian (S Dorset)||Evans, David (Welwyn Hatfield)|
|Burns, Simon||Evans, Jonathan (Brecon)|
|Burt, Alistair||Evans, Nigel (Ribble Valley)|
|Butcher, John||Evans, Roger (Monmouth)|
|Butler, Peter||Evennett, David|
|Butterfill, John||Faber, David|
|Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)||Fabricant, Michael|
|Fairbairn, Sir Nicholas||Marlow, Tony|
|Field, Barry (Isle of Wight)||Marshall, John (Hendon S)|
|Fishburn, John Dudley||Marshall, Sir Michael (Arundel)|
|Forman, Nigel||Martin, David (Portsmouth S)|
|Forth, Eric||Mawhinney, Dr Brian|
|Fowler, Rt Hon Sir Norman||Merchant, Piers|
|Fox, Dr Liam (Woodspring)||Milligan, Stephen|
|Fox, Sir Marcus (Shipley)||Mills, Iain|
|Freeman, Roger||Mitchell, Andrew (Gedling)|
|French, Douglas||Moate, Roger|
|Fry, Peter||Molyneaux, Rt Hon James|
|Gale, Roger||Monro, Sir Hector|
|Gallie, Phil||Montgomery, Sir Fergus|
|Gardiner, Sir George||Moss, Malcolm|
|Garel-Jones, Rt Hon Tristan||Needham, Richard|
|Garnier, Edward||Neubert, Sir Michael|
|Gill, Christopher||Newton, Rt Hon Tony|
|Gillan, Ms Cheryl||Nicholls, Patrick|
|Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles||Nicholson, David (Taunton)|
|Gorman, Mrs Teresa||Nicholson, Emma (Devon West)|
|Gorst, John||Norris, Steve|
|Grant, Sir Anthony (Cambs SW)||Onslow, Rt Hon Cranley|
|Greenway, Harry (Ealing N)||Oppenheim, Phillip|
|Greenway, John (Ryedale)||Ottaway, Richard|
|Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth, N)||Page, Richard|
|Hague, William||Paice, James|
|Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)||Patnick, Irvine|
|Hannam, Sir John||Pawsey, James|
|Hargreaves, Andrew||Peacock, Mrs Elizabeth|
|Harris, David||Pickles, Eric|
|Haselhurst, Alan||Porter, Barry (Wirral S)|
|Hawkins, Nicholas||Porter, David (Waveney)|
|Hawksley, Warren||Portillo, Rt Hon Michael|
|Hayes, Jerry||Powell, William (Corby)|
|Heald, Oliver||Renton, Rt Hon Tim|
|Heathcoat-Amory, David||Richards, Rod|
|Hendry, Charles||Riddick, Graham|
|Heseltine, Rt Hon Michael||Rifkind, Rt Hon. Malcolm|
|Hicks, Robert||Robathan, Andrew|
|Higgins, Rt Hon Terence L.||Roberts, Rt Hon Sir Wyn|
|Hill, James (Southampton Test)||Robertson, Raymond (Ab'd'n S)|
|Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas (G'tham)||Robinson, Mark (Somerton)|
|Horam, John||Roe, Mrs Marion (Broxbourne)|
|Hordern, Sir Peter||Ross, William (E Londonderry)|
|Howarth, Alan (Strat'rd-on-A)||Rowe, Andrew (Mid Kent)|
|Hughes Robert G. (Harrow W)||Rumbold, Rt Hon Dame Angela|
|Hunt, Rt Hon David (Wirral W)||Ryder, Rt Hon Richard|
|Hunt, Sir John (Ravensbourne)||Sackville, Tom|
|Hunter, Andrew||Scott, Rt Hon Nicholas|
|Jack, Michael||Shaw, David (Dover)|
|Jackson, Robert (Wantage)||Shaw, Sir Giles (Pudsey)|
|Jenkin, Bernard||Shephard, Rt Hon Gillian|
|Johnson Smith, Sir Geoffrey||Shepherd, Colin (Hereford)|
|Jones, Robert B. (W H'f'rdshire)||Shepherd, Richard (Aldridge)|
|Kellett-Bowman, Dame Elaine||Shersby, Michael|
|Kilfedder, Sir James||Sims, Roger|
|King, Rt Hon Tom||Skeet, Sir Trevor|
|Kirkhope, Timothy||Smith, Tim (Beaconsfield)|
|Knapman, Roger||Spencer, Sir Derek|
|Knight, Mrs Angela (Erewash)||Spicer, Sir James (W Dorset)|
|Knight, Greg (Derby N)||Spicer, Michael (S Worcs)|
|Knight, Dame Jill (Bir'm E'st'n)||Spink, Dr Robert|
|Kynoch, George (Kincardine)||Spring, Richard|
|Lait, Mrs Jacqui||Sproat, Iain|
|Lawrence, Sir Ivan||Squire, Robin (Hornchurch)|
|Legg, Barry||Stephen, Michael|
|Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark||Stern, Michael|
|Lester, Jim (Broxtowe)||Stewart, Allan|
|Lidington, David||Streeter, Gary|
|Lightbown, David||Sumberg, David|
|Lord, Michael||Sweeney, Walter|
|Luff, Peter||Sykes, John|
|Lyell, Rt Hon Sir Nicholas||Tapsell, Sir Peter|
|Maclean, David||Taylor, Ian (Esher)|
|McLoughlin, Patrick||Taylor, John M. (Solihull)|
|McNair-Wilson, Sir Patrick||Taylor, Sir Teddy (Southend, E)|
|Maitland, Lady Olga||Temple-Morris, Peter|
|Malone, Gerald||Thomason, Roy|
|Mans, Keith||Thompson, Patrick (Norwich N)|
|Marland, Paul||Thurnham, Peter|
|Townend, John (Bridlington)||Whittingdale, John|
|Townsend, Cyril D. (Bexl'yh'th)||Widdecombe, Ann|
|Tracey, Richard||Wiggin, Jerry|
|Trend, Michael||Wilkinson, John|
|Trotter, Neville||Willetts, David|
|Twinn, Dr Ian||Wilshire, David|
|Vaughan, Sir Gerard||Winterton, Mrs Ann (Congleton)|
|Walden, George||Winterton, Nicholas (Macc'f'ld)|
|Walker, Bill (N Tayside)||Wolfson, Mark|
|Waller, Gary||Wood, Timothy|
|Wardle, Charles (Bexhill)||Yeo, Tim|
|Waterson, Nigel||Young, Sir George (Acton)|
|Wells, Bowen||Tellers for the Noes:|
|Wheeler, Sir John||Mr. Andrew MacKay and Mr. Sydney Chapman.|
§ Question accordingly negatived.
New clause 5—Disclosure of negotiations as to transfers
', —In the exercise of their powers under section 1 the relevant corporation or the Secretary of State shall disclose to representatives of the workforce and, in the case of British Rail representatives of the passengers, the names and addresses of any person or body with whom they are in contact with a view to transferring to them any fixtures, property, rights or liabilities, within one week of the commencement of that contact.'.—[Mr. Dobson.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Janet Fookes)
With this we shall discuss new clause 6—Coal industry consultation (disclosure)
§ Mr. Dobson
I shall be brief, as I do not wish to detain the House. The objective of both new clauses is straightforward. We believe that, where any person or body shows an interest in buying all or part of British Coal or taking a franchise for any part of British Rail, the names and addresses of those persons or organisations should be disclosed within one week to representatives of the work forces of British Coal and British Rail and to the representatives of British Rail's passengers, in the interests of the open government that the Prime Minister claims to favour. If the Government believe in open government, there should be no problem about disclosing that information.
There need be no secrecy. Those who work in the coal and rail industries and passengers wishing to travel on the British railway network in the future are entitled to know that is happening. We do not believe that those who work in the industries are chattels, to be discussed and distributed as a result of private conversations between business people, Tory Ministers and civil servants. They are not artefacts to be bought and sold, or even to be preserved in a museum. They are human beings. Their jobs are at stake in the privatisation process and they are entitled to know who is trying to become their boss or bosses.
I hope that the Minister will say either that he agrees with the new clauses or, if he does not agree with the detail, that he finds the principle acceptable and that the Government will change the Bill in another place. I need say no more on the matter. I hope that the Minister will be equally brief in his reply.
§ Mr. Cryer
My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden) and I are deeply concerned about one aspect of disclosure covered by new clause 5. I refer to the 662 electrification of the Leeds-Bradford railway, and to the leasing of the rolling stock. The Industrial Bank of Scotland has clearly stated that in the absence of specific legislation and of a Government guarantee that after privatisation, the leasing payments will continue to be made—by the Government, if necessary-it is not prepared to pursue negotiations with West Yorkshire passenger transport authority. The scheme is therefore lurching from crisis to crisis.
The Minister visited Leeds this morning to take part in one of a series of negotiations. The PTA, the manufacturers of the rolling stock in Leeds—Hunslet, and the passengers affected are greatly concerned.
The Bill has thrown a spanner in the works in respect of the provision of rolling stock on that section of the line it is proposed to electrify. A new clause that requires information about organisations engaged in the transfer of assets under clause 1 would be welcome. It would potentially ensure greater knowledge and certainty for organisations that are helping the PTA by leasing rolling stock.
As the Minister knows, the Government insisted on the PTA leasing the stock. The Minister shakes his head, but I well recall that that option was the one which the Minister said the PTA should take. I believe that he is sympathetic to the electrification scheme and wants it to go ahead. At a meeting in Bradford last Friday attended by representatives of the chamber of commerce, Members of Parliament and councillors from both major parties, all expressed enthusiasm for the scheme and urged the PTA to go ahead with the leasing arrangements.
The problem is that the organisations with which it needs to reach agreements, such as the Industrial Bank of Scotland, say that privatisation places the leasing of the rolling stock in jeopardy. The PTA is looking at concluding an arrangement with other institutions for leasing the rolling stock that would not depend on a Government guarantee in the event that privatisation unfortunately went ahead. The PTA itself might be in jeopardy.
When the Minister was in Manchester on Thursday morning, he said that PTAs and passenger transport executives would in no way be affected by privatisation. I hope that he will repeat that assurance when he winds up. New clause 5 represents a small step towards providing information to bodies—not those under Labour control—such as the Industrial Bank of Scotland. It is a private enterprise bank, but says that privatisation is in effect placing a question mark over the future of the body or bodies that are currently entering negotiations concerning the provision of rolling stock.
As the Minister knows, it is vital for Bradford that the electrification scheme goes ahead, InterCity services are wholly dependent on that happening. As was made clear at Friday's meeting in Bradford city hall, if electrification does not take place British Rail will have to consider whether current method of taking the sparse inter-city service from Leeds to Bradford remains a viable option.
Electrification of local lines would provide decent passenger services and a decent capacity, neither of which exists at present on the rush-hour services between Leeds and Bradford and up the Aire Valley. It would also give British Rail the opportunity to expand the London-Bradford InterCity service. Surely the Minister wants the service to be expanded and improved, so that people will be encouraged to travel by rail rather than by road.
663 Bradford is a fine city; it is the queen of Yorkshire cities. Surely it deserves, and needs, an electrified railway network as part of the inter-city service. At present, a diesel locomotive has to drag the whole electric train, including the power unit, the trailer car and the coaches, en bloc to Bradford, and then propel them back.
If new clause 5 were passed, a bit of background information could be provided to give financial institutions more certainty. It does not go far enough, but at least it would be a step in the right direction. I hope that the Minister will give me the assurances that I require, and that, if he does not consider the new clause satisfactory, a provision with similar wording can be tabled in the Lords.
§ Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)
I wish to endorse everything said by my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer), and to stress the importance to Bradford's economic future of the speedy implernentation of the West Yorkshire electrification scheme.
§ Madam Speaker
Order. I believe that the hon. Gentleman had an exchange with one of my deputies earlier. I hope that he will relate his speech directly to the new clause.
§ Mr. Madden
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South. I hope that the Minister will tell us that he can present a measure in the House of Lords to allay the anxiety of financial institutions about the effects of privatisation on British Rail and the future of passenger transport authorities, especially in West Yorkshire.
We have heard some powerful speeches, expressing the anxieties about privatisation felt by many British Rail and coal mining workers. I hope that the Minister will tell us that a formula has been found to enable the contract leasing arrangements to go ahead; so that the West Yorkshire PTA can purchase new rolling stock and this important scheme can proceed on schedule with the maximum urgency, bringing to West Yorkshire the benefits that are an integral part of the scheme.
§ Mr. Freeman
The hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Bradford. West (Mr. Madden) gave us as an example the disclosure of the identity of a possible transferee on the West Yorkshire lines. Clearly, that is highly appropriate: the new clause would require British Rail to disclose the identity of parties consulted by British Rail, the Department of Transport or—in relation to British Coal—the Department of Trade and Industry.
I shall deal first with the argument of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) and then with the points raised in the context of new clause 5 by the hon. Members for Bradford, South (Mr. Cryer) and for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden). The Government do not believe that either of the new clauses is appropriate. Therefore I do not commend them to the House. However, I agree with the thrust of the argument of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras: it would confuse employees and users of British Rail if there were to be constant identification of the names and addresses of all parties with whom there had been conversations, for the obvious reason that a number of the applications will not proceed.
I have had conversations with about three dozen potential railway franchisees and freight operators. I have not disclosed their identity. Some have done so, but that must be a matter for them. It would not be in the interests 664 of the 136,000 British Rail employees or of British Rail passengers if there were speculation at this stage about who may or may not be interested.
§ Mr. Dobson
One of the objects of the exercise is to end speculation. There would be no speculation if the new clause were accepted. All that the Government would need to do is publish a list once a week of the names of those with whom they had had conversations. There will he speculation if the Government do not publish a list. People will start to wonder who the Government are talking to and who they intend should be the bosses. They will speculate about the record of these outfits, if they are so ashamed of their contacts with the Government that they will not disclose their record, and if the Government are so ashamed of these outfits that they, too, will not disclose their record.
§ Mr. Freeman
That does not correspond with the real world. If we, or British Coal or British Rail were under an obligation to publish those names, we should find that some parties who are genuinely interested in operating railway services would be reluctant to come forward.
§ Mr. Freeman
Because that is the commercial reality of life. Some parties will want to hold conversations in confidence. If there were a potential management buy-out, as happened in the case of the bus industry, does the hon. Gentleman believe that the management and staff of British Rail, interested in principle in running the franchise on one of British Rail's lines, would like their identity, without necessarily their approval or knowledge, to be published? I do not believe that that would be in either their interests or British Rail's interests.
There will be ample oportunity for those who respond to the competitive process for letting a rail franchise to respond to the tender documents and for the identity of the chosen tenderer, in negotiating the detailed contract both with British Rail as the track authority and with the franchising authority that is to provide any subsidy, then to be fully disclosed. My hon. Friend the Minister for Energy has told me that he has provided to the House of Commons Library a list of all the parties to whom he has written and of all those who have responded on the future of British Coal. He has also told me that those who wish to do so can identify themselves and publish their advice.
In the context of new clause 5, may I deal with the points raised by the hon. Members for Bradford, South and for Bradford, West? The Government very much want the electrification project to proceed. I do not believe that the issue is the privatisation of British Rail. The problem relates to the potential privatisation of the passenger transport authorities and the passenger transport executives. They are two separate issues. I am happy to repeat the assurance that I gave in Manchester: that the Government have no intention of changing the status of the PTAs or the PTEs, or the method of their funding. That should go some way towards allaying the fears of the banks involved in writing a particular lease.
§ Mr. Madden
It is clear from the earlier debates that legislation protecting pension funds is vital. Equally, when the privatisation Bill is introduced, will it be possible to ring-fence PTAs and PTEs from privatisation? That would allay the anxieties of financial institutions, which have 665 been increased in recent weeks and months and which led the Minister to have five meetings with the PTA to discuss these thorny issues.
§ Mr. Freeman
I shall certainly give that some consideration, but the White Paper will make the position crystal clear. The hon. Gentleman asked for inclusion of such a guarantee in legislation. I am not convinced that that is warranted or appropriate, but I shall bear in mind what he said, because the Government's intentions are clear.
How do we move forward in the context of new clause 5 to ensure that the project proceeds? At my meeting today, I said that there was no potential transferee for the operations of West Yorkshire railways services. To my mind, the fears of the banking system were misplaced, because we had no intention of changing the proposed arrangements.
I have undertaken to write to the PTA tomorrow morning. I have said that I am perfectly prepared to talk to bankers to try to allay their fears. I hope that a lease can be written. It is the first time for 70 years that a true operating lease will have been written for the railway industry. Therefore, we are breaking new ground.
I do not believe that the acceptance of new clause 5 would help the case of West Yorkshire electrification. I am confident that that project will proceed and that the lease will be written. It has taken longer than I or those in West Yorkshire would have liked, but there is no doubt in my mind about the outcome.
I hope, with those few brief remarks, that the House will accept my assurances and explanations, and that new clauses 5 and 6 will not be pressed.
§ Mr. Dobson
We have had a bit of a novelty tonight. We all know about the love that dare not speak its name, but now we have the bids that dare not speak their names. Despite the fact that the Minister has not made any commitments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, hr leave, withdrawn.